Microsoft hires Eric Holder to audit AnyVision over use of facial recognition on Palestinians

Microsoft has hired former United States Attorney General Eric Holder to conduct an audit of facial recognition company AnyVision to determine whether it complies with Microsoft’s ethical principles on how the biometric surveillance technology should be used.

Microsoft’s venture capital arm, M12, invested in AnyVision as part of a $74 million Series A funding round in June. Under the terms of the deal, Microsoft stipulated that AnyVision should comply with its six ethical principles to guide its facial recognition work: fairness, transparency, accountability, nondiscrimination, notice and consent, and lawful surveillance.

The last principle states, “We will advocate for safeguards for people’s democratic freedoms in law enforcement surveillance scenarios and will not deploy facial recognition technology in scenarios that we believe will put these freedoms at risk.”

AnyVision, headquartered in Israel, sells an “advanced tactical surveillance” software system, Better Tomorrow. It lets customers identify individuals and objects in any live camera feed, such as a security camera or smartphone, and then track targets as they move between different feeds.

NBC News reported in October that according to five sources familiar with the matter, AnyVision’s technology has powered a secret military surveillance project that has monitored Palestinians in the West Bank. The project was so successful that AnyVision won Israel’s top defense price in 2018 for preventing “hundreds of terror attacks” using “large amounts of data.”

Human rights activist argued that AnyVision’s work monitoring Palestinians in the West Bank was incompatible with its public statements about ethical standards for facial recognition technology.

“AnyVision’s facial recognition technology is not being used for surveillance in the West Bank or the Gaza Strip, and AnyVision would not allow its technology to be used for that purpose,” said AnyVision in a statement issued to NBC News last month.

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